In the creative versus data debate, brand will always remain king

As brands increasingly bow down to big data, Alex Carr argues that things should actually be the other way around.

Brand is king. Data is a mere servant. There, I said it.

Many would suggest I have just publicly ridiculed myself as a laggard, desperately hanging onto the past.

Just as many would cheer, wanting to save creativity and stick it to the increasingly programmatic world.

The truth is, taking sides on this issue, like there is an either/or answer, is the nub of the problem. My point is that data is subservient to brand – not that one should replace the other.

As the importance of data and addressability has grown, we have seen a growing distrust around the discipline of creative brand building. The notion of brand has been called into question by some parts of the industry, often seen as puffery linked only to luxurious communications.

Let’s get back to basics for a second. Brand is not an advertising construct – it’s a business engine. More often than not, it is the central force around which the organisation pivots.

This central force then shapes the promise to consumers. A promise of quality. A promise of a better experience. Even a promise of a better life.

The beauty of promises, is that they need to be delivered upon.

This is the key role of brand. Acting as a guiding force, for every interaction with that product or service.

Qantas’ commitment to not just driving an improved customer experience but driving unique brand experiences through the lens of ‘The Spirit of Australia’ has certainly been a major contributing factor to the revival of the business.

They champion ‘The Spirit of Australia’ in everything they do. It has not only breathed life into the external perceptions of the brand, but has also galvanised the workforce, bringing a palpable energy and a mojo to the organisation.

So, what does this mean for the creative industry?

In an increasingly competitive marketplace around content creation, creative agencies need to re-focus on the real meaning of brand creation and skill up to drive unique brand experiences, whatever the medium.

Agencies need to stop falling into the trap that data and addressability is our only future. It is a flawed game. Eventually, when everyone has the same data sets and the same ability to reach the same consumer, the effectiveness of automated communications can only decrease.

Agencies, like marketers, need to get back to basics.

We need grown up brand-building models that help organise the brand. Models that help everyone internally and externally build a long term, consistent connection. Models that enable constant re-invention of the brand through communications and service design but retain a strong, purposeful, undeviating core.

Once organised, we need to leverage our creativity and help shape a balance of unique brand experiences.

Whether they be mass transformative brand experiences that aim to shape culture and prime herds of consumers; or more addressable, personalised brand experiences built off rich seams of data designed to drive more immediate action.

Brand and creativity need to be central to every experience, not sidelined as luxurious communication choices.

You only need to look at Airbnb and its commitment to the organising idea of ‘Belong anywhere’ to see how effective an organised brand can be. It shaped their logo as much as it drives their staff behaviour as much as it drives their experiences.

Airbnb’s branding can belong anywhere

Airbnb has found the nirvana of a tight brand organising idea that will exist for 100 years, but that still gives them the flexibility to constantly transform themselves within its boundaries. Strong data and insight strengthen the brand. Not vice versa.

Only this will help our clients meet their key goal of a sustainable return on the marketing dollar.

Only this will protect creative businesses from the looming jaws of the management consultants who may well be able to dominate rational conversations around data, but will struggle in a more creatively-led world.

So whilst I have no doubt brand is king, I have a sneaky suspicion brand may well be our saviour too.

Alex Carr is the Managing Director of BWM Dentsu.


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